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National Western Stock Show celebrates 100th anniversary
Indiana Correspondent

DENVER, Colo. — Since its rustic beginnings in 1906, the National Western Stock Show (NWSS) in Denver has been a spectacle for horse and livestock enthusiasts, alike. This venerable agricultural showcase and holds claim to the title of the world’s largest seedstock show.

When the “granddaddy” of all livestock shows began, it started out with tents, alcoholic apple cider and some rowdy carousers who, according to a historical account in the Dec. 23 Record Stockman, caused the local people to be “astonished by the violence, and forlorned by the fact that the event had tarnished Denver’s reputation for good.”

Despite its wild origins, a stalwart group of Colorado cattlemen, packers and stockyard leaders began a more official organization the next year to create a show that would become an annual opportunity to show and then sell high quality cattle and horses.

One hundred years later, the annual event is still at the Denver Stockyards. The stockyards are no longer running, but for two weeks in January, the bystanders and exhibitors can get a feel for what the formerly bustling yards were once like.

This year’s event, Jan. 7-22, hosted more than 726,000 people, the largest ever. Exhibitors from coast-to-coast brought everything from llamas to pigs, cattle to highly publicized PRCA rodeo action. Cattle and horse shows draw the largest number of exhibitors.

There are more than 20 cattle shows with at least 7,000 head of cattle exhibited. These shows are a major draw for Midwestern exhibitors despite the long trip and expenses that can run in excess of $1,000 per head for the show.

“People feel like they’ll miss out if they don’t come to Denver,” said Kati Anderson, NWSS spokesperson. “We still have the one place where buyers can walk the yards and see so many cattle, and we have an international marketing opportunity.”

Marketing is unique with opportunities for sales in both the former stockyards and on the “hill” - the area where cattle are stalled in barns and breed shows take place. Anderson said 18 public auctions generate more than $5 million. Countless other private treaty sales occur at Denver, too. Bill Angell, Yards Manager, said he can only estimate the number of sales.

“Private treaty sales that were turned into our offices amounted to $584,000 on 138 head of cattle,” he noted.

Jeff Miller, Cutler, Ind., has brought cattle to sell in the Denver yards for four of the last six years.

“The market’s better here,” he began. “There are just more cowmen and there’s a wider range of buyers. Two days ago we sold a heifer to Arizona. We’ve never sold there before.”

Miller estimates more than 75 percent of his total business comes from contacts he makes at stock shows like the NWSS.

“It’s a lot more expensive (to show) than print advertising, but when cattle are presented well people will stop and look at them,” he pointed out. When people stop to shop, that’s when they’re more likely to buy.”

On the hill, it seems to be a combination of sales and customer service for longtime exhibitors Cates Farms of Modoc, Ind. Co-owner Brian Cates says they’ve been showing for over 30 years at places like the NWSS.

“Most of the cattle we show are already sold and we’re here mainly for customer service,” he said adding that they also try to make the NWSS to promote something new, such as a new herd sire or prospect, each year.

His son, Tyler, who now manages a vast majority of the show string, confirmed that showing cattle, especially the trek to Denver, is worth the time and money.

“Denver’s exciting and that can help to sell,” he said.

“We meet so many people here that wouldn’t likely come by the farm otherwise.”

The NWSS begins the second week in January each year. For entry information and more details about this year’s show and sale results, visit

This farm news was published in the February 1, 2006 issue of Farm World.